Can tablet commerce help publishers break free of the magazine paradigm?

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[Updated with comment from Adobe.]

I just want to say one word about the future of tablet editions: Commerce.

As media companies plot out their tablet publishing strategies, support for online shopping must be front and center in their thinking. The promising future of “couch commerce,” driven by the tablet’s rising status as an at-home, lean-back leisure device, should grab the attention of media companies looking to expand their digital business models.

Publishers of any size, in any sector, from consumer fashion to heavy equipment, have an opportunity to create compelling, multichannel e-commerce offerings – if they’re willing to experiment with models that may blur traditional editorial/advertising lines.

Think about the impact that tablets, barely two years old, are already having on e-commerce:

  • In the second quarter, tablets accounted for more than 7% of the traffic to e-commerce websites monitored by commerce platform provider Monetate – up from 2% just a year ago. Conversion rates from tablet shoppers (3.17%) are on par with PC-based buyers (3.34%) and more than double that of smartphone shoppers (1.09%), according to Monetate’s latest Ecommerce Quarterly report.
  • comScore says 39% of tablet owners purchased items in the past month, compared with 18% of smartphone owners. Tablet owners appear more engaged as well: 43% have researched items and 42% have compared product prices in the past month, compared to 21% and 22%, respectively, for smartphones.
  • Earlier this year, Adobe released a report showing that tablet owners spent more on average per online order ($123) than PC ($102) or smartphone ($80) shoppers in 2011.

These trends should be a light bulb moment for publishers trying to re-think the traditional magazine bundle for digital devices. We’re already seeing signs that the existing iPad publishing model has flaws, and may force publishers to get more creative with the way they package content and the enhancements they can offer through tablet apps or tablet-optimized websites.

An integrated shopping experience

How can commerce help? An integrated shopping experience, which makes it easier for your audience to research and purchase the products or services you’re writing about, can improve audience engagement and drive critical reader revenues.

"E-commerce can add a lot of value to a publication," said Lynly Schambers-Lenox, group product marketing manager for digital publishing at Adobe. "When you can facilitate that shopping experience directly from the app, there's a convenience factor." An in-app shopping experience "also keeps the consumer within the context of your brand," she said.

Conde Nast’s Lucky magazine is taking the first steps toward tablet-enabled commerce with its new e-commerce website, MyLuckyMag.com. The site is optimized for tablets, and Lucky’s new digital edition apps for iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet will let subscribers purchase items directly from their devices, according to Mobile Commerce Daily.

Lucky uses a cloud-based merchandising platform from Revel Touch, which announced this week that it has raised $10 million in funding. Revel says its software lets brands re-use existing assets to create touch-optimized apps or websites. At first glance, Revel Touch seems like the type of platform that can help publishers experiment with ways to break free of the magazine replica model and create new commerce-focused products, instead of simply inserting “buy” buttons into existing editorial.

Publishers may want to pick up the pace with these types of efforts to avoid ceding more strategic ground to their own base of advertisers. Tablet publishing platform providers such as Adobe and Zmags are attracting more online retailers and other brands that are creating interactive catalogs and other publications tuned for tablet commerce. Increasingly, these brands are stepping into traditional publishers’ space, enhancing their catalogs with articles and other original content, or creating custom magazines with a built-in shopping experience.

Retailers have work to do as well. A February study by Zmags found that less than one-third of the top 100 Internet retailers had optimized their sites for tablet commerce. “The rest are relying on their standard websites to deliver an ‘adequate enough’ tablet shopping experience,” Zmags found. “Some retailers’ approach has been to develop iPad apps to address the tablet shopping market, but one-quarter of these apps don’t allow shoppers to buy directly.”

So the race is on. Publishers will need to determine whether they’re going to build their own tablet-optimized websites, create commerce-driven apps, or partner with leading brands in their category, sending audience to a third-party commerce site in exchange for a cut of the sale.

Any way you slice it, there’s a great future in commerce. Think about it.

More tablet commerce resources

Make Way for T-Commerce (Ecommerce Times)

Video + Tablets: The Mobile Catalyst for E-Commerce (Forbes)

Tablets and Ecommerce Infographic (IGM)

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